Homeyer: Trees In Trouble

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(HOST) Now that yard and garden chores are winding down, commentator
Henry Homeyer suggests that we pay some attention to our trees.

As I drive down the road at this time of year I can’t help but notice
that there are many trees in trouble. I can’t save every one of them,
but maybe with your help we can save a few of them.

Here’s the
problem: when gardeners buy trees, most follow the directions they were
given when they bought the trees. They plant the tree so that it sits in
the ground just as it was in the pot that it came in. Unfortunately,
that’s bad advice.

Most trees sold here start their lives
outside New England – generally in warm places where they grow quickly.
They’re put in pots using mass production techniques, with little regard
to planting depth. But planting depth is very important.

If you cover up the bark of a tree, it will rot in six to ten years. The tree will go into a decline and die a premature death.

can easily identify stressed trees right now: they’re the ones that
turn color before others of their species. They also have few or no
leaves at the top of the tree. Look at the base of a tree growing in the
woods. It will flare out with protrusions that look like roots emerging
from the base. If a tree you planted goes straight into the ground like
a telephone pole, you probably have covered up the trunk flare, that
part of the trunk that is so susceptible to rot if covered with soil.

the good news: you can still save a stressed tree. What you have to do
is carefully remove the soil that’s covering up the trunk flare.

down until you find the flare, and then re-grade the area to look good
after you‘ve exposed the flare. Sometimes that means taking away six to
12 inches of soil if you bought a large tree.

There will be tiny
roots growing out of what was, formerly, the soil-covered part of the
trunk, but they’re not important – just cut them off.

Bark mulch
covering the trunk flare can be just as lethal to a tree. Mulch is fine
– so long as you leave a donut hole around the tree. Four to six inches
of free space is needed between the tree and the mulch.

If you
plant any trees this fall, be sure to find the trunk flare and dig the
hole just that deep and no deeper. Dig a wide hole to loosen the soil so
that roots can extend easily as they grow. No fertilizer is needed when
you plant a tree – it can even hinder development of a good root
system. And lastly, be sure that any trees planted this year go into
winter well watered – either by Mother Nature or by you.

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